Best of Vancouver 2011 bright lights: Babette Santos
There’s a powerful symbolism in the foot-tapping and shoulder-shrugging movements often seen in the performances of the Kathara Dance Theatre Collective Canada.
It’s like drawing energy from the Earth, suggests Babette Santos, the Vancouver group’s artistic director.
The idea that human beings are intimately linked to nature is also evident in many of Kathara Canada’s songs and chants that celebrate the culture of the indigenous peoples in Mindanao, the southern region of the Philippines.
Many of these tribes continue to live in the way their ancestors did centuries ago. They’ve withstood waves of foreign colonization, and held at bay the relentless onslaught of both Christian and Muslim influences.
“There’s a song called Gintong Uhay, which is about golden stalks of rice and how the spirit of the people are really connected to the land,” Santos told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
By promoting awareness about these indigenous peoples, Kathara hopes to foster harmony among different cultures as well.
“We’re advocating peace and understanding through the different cultural groups that exist in Mindanao,” Santos said.
It wasn’t difficult for Santos to identify herself with these native peoples, whose colourful weaving and intricate beadwork are reflected in the costumes of Kathara performers, whether they’re performing at Filipino Canadian community gatherings or in multicultural settings like the Hapa-Palooza Festival held earlier this month.
Even though she was born and raised in Canada, and her family had to move a lot across the country because her father, a nurse, served with the Canadian military, she was taught by her parents a lot about Filipino culture starting as a young girl.
“My parents really instilled in us the value of our heritage,” Santos said. She learned many traditional Filipino dances as a young girl. “I haven’t changed much,” the performance artist giggled.
It was in 2002 when she and other young Filipino Canadians based in Vancouver met members of the original Kathara group in the Philippines, who came to Canada to perform at a community event that year. The visitors stayed in Vancouver for a while, and their contact with other youth in the community became a valuable learning experience for both.
Santos and her colleagues were exposed to Filipino indigenous culture from their new mentors who blended two Tagalog words, katha (to create) and gitara (guitar) to form the portmanteau kithara. In 2003, Kathara Canada was formed.
In addition to various performances, Kathara Canada offers workshops in dance, drumming, and traditional martial arts as a way for young Filipino Canadians to learn a part of their heritage.
“Kathara Canada has been a medium for Filipino Canadians to explore their Filipino identity,” Santos said.
An early member and the group’s musical director, Honorio “JR” Guerrero said in a separate phone interview with the Straight that there’s a strong sense of ethnic pride to be found in discovering the story and resilience of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines.
That’s because that narrative, according to Guerrero, shows that even before contact with the western world, there was already a flourishing homegrown culture that’s truly its people’s own.